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PUC rejects Elizabeth Bridge appeal

| Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, 5:21 a.m.
Heavy trucks no longer can use the bridge carrying Route 51 over the Monongahela River between West Elizabeth and Elizabeth because of weight restrictions announced by PennDOT. They must use a detour through West Elizabeth, Jefferson Hills, Clairton, Glassport, Elizabeth Township, Lincoln and Elizabeth.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Heavy trucks no longer can use the bridge carrying Route 51 over the Monongahela River between West Elizabeth and Elizabeth because of weight restrictions announced by PennDOT. They must use a detour through West Elizabeth, Jefferson Hills, Clairton, Glassport, Elizabeth Township, Lincoln and Elizabeth.
The Public Utility Commission rejected Elizabeth's appeal and ruled that borough police must enforce the weight limit on the Route 51 Elizabeth Bridge.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
The Public Utility Commission rejected Elizabeth's appeal and ruled that borough police must enforce the weight limit on the Route 51 Elizabeth Bridge.
Heavy trucks are restricted from using the bridge carrying Route 51 over the Monongahela River between West Elizabeth and Elizabeth. This view may show some of the steel deterioration that prompted the posting of a 32-ton weight limit (40 for combinations).
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Heavy trucks are restricted from using the bridge carrying Route 51 over the Monongahela River between West Elizabeth and Elizabeth. This view may show some of the steel deterioration that prompted the posting of a 32-ton weight limit (40 for combinations).
Earlier this year, Gulisek Construction crews worked on ramps leading to the Elizabeth Bridge from West Elizabeth and Clairton. A PennDOT spokesman said most work now has been done on the $4.4 million project involving the interchange of routes 51 and 837.
Patrick Cloonan | Daily News
Earlier this year, Gulisek Construction crews worked on ramps leading to the Elizabeth Bridge from West Elizabeth and Clairton. A PennDOT spokesman said most work now has been done on the $4.4 million project involving the interchange of routes 51 and 837.

The state Public Utility Commission on Thursday unanimously denied Elizabeth's appeal of its order to enforce weight limits on the Elizabeth Bridge.

“We are obviously disappointed,” council president Monica Glowinski said. “It is going to restrict our police department drastically.”

The 5-0 vote came a day after PennDOT posted a detour around a bridge off-limits to trucks with more than 32 tons or combinations of over 40.

“The police department is expected to look for possible violators of the posted weight limit and hold the truck until a weigh team can weigh the vehicle,” PennDOT District 11 spokesman Steve Cowan said.

Commission spokeswoman Denise McCracken said “PennDOT noted that the superstructure of the bridge revealed steel deterioration.”

That may have been in an inspection last spring by SAI Consulting Engineers.

“I have no way of knowing that because (PennDOT) never provided us with a report and we made multiple requests,” Glowinski said.

“Steel deterioration was first detected in 1991 and has been monitored routinely on a regular inspection cycle,” Cowan said. “The deterioration will be addressed when the bridge is rehabilitated.”

Cowan said the bridge is under design but no date has been set for rehabilitation work to begin.

The commission issued its order because the bridge goes over CSX tracks in Elizabeth and Norfolk Southern tracks in West Elizabeth, both of which Elizabeth police patrol.

“The consequences of the action taken by the commission have already resulted in property and economic damages to borough citizens,” Elizabeth Solicitor Pat McGrail wrote in her appeal. “The action will further damage the borough by forcing borough police to extend beyond their primary jurisdiction and diminish police resources.”

“A party's ability or inability to pay for the work is not a factor that the commission takes into consideration when allocating costs associated with rail-highway crossings,” McCracken said.

McCracken said McGrail's claim that “municipal police jurisdiction does not extend to a state highway” is a misstatement of the law.

McGrail said jurisdiction does not extend to a state highway “except under specific circumstances,” and weight inspection isn't included.

“Instead,” McGrail wrote, “enforcement of the weight limit falls squarely within the responsibility of the Pennsylvania State Police.”

State police in Belle Vernon could not be reached for comment. Glowinski said they already have a lot on their plate.

“We will be reaching out to them if we need assistance,” Glowinski said. “Talk about an agency that is already spread thin, that is really a foolhardy waste of resources for our men and women who work on the state police.”

Glowinski said PennDOT should find a solution.

“We had asked if there would be any financial support if we had to do policing on our own,” she said. “They said they would look into it.”

Cowan said his agency “worked with the borough to address concerns they have” about a detour that includes several downtown streets.

“I guess they are assuming that by coming to our council meeting (in October) that is working with us,” Glowinski said. “(That's the) last time I heard from anybody from PennDOT.”

At Tuesday's council meeting, public works director John Grossi said PennDOT took out three parking spaces and put new signs up.

There were changes to the timing of traffic signals at Market Street and N. Third Avenue, both part of the detour.

“In the afternoon around 4:30 traffic is backed up across the Elizabeth Bridge,” Glowinski said. “That is an accident waiting to happen.”

The borough asked area state lawmakers for help.

“We've not reached out to (U.S. Rep. Tim) Murphy yet,” the council president said. “That might be our next step.”

The borough asked residents to take pictures and videos of trucks coming through downtown Elizabeth, and to keep officials informed about damage by those trucks.

“They are going to be our eyes and ears out there,” Glowinski said.

A $4.4 million ramp rehabilitation at the interchange of routes 51 and 837 “is nearly complete” in West Elizabeth, Cowan said. “Only a few minor items remain. None of the remaining work should impact traffic.”

Gulisek Construction of Mt. Pleasant was contractor there.

In other business, the Public Utility Commission approved a 4.5 percent or $26 million rate increase for 2.2 million Pennsylvania American Water customers in 35 counties. The increase is less than half of the utility's original request for a 10.1 percent or $58.6 million increase.

For a typical residential customer using 3,960 gallons a month in the utility's main division, the bill will rise by 5.58 percent from $52.52 to $55.45.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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